Park, other budget additions will go forward despite rejection of Pleasant Grove property tax increase
When the Pleasant Grove City Council approved a nearly 15% property tax increase earlier this year, members envisioned the influx of revenue would pay for a new park and alleviate some city staffing concerns, by boosting police wages and hiring a full-time firefighter and librarian.
What they likely weren’t counting on, however, was to be challenged at the ballot in a citizen-led effort to give Pleasant Grove residents a greater say in the matter.
The ballot measure, Proposition 14, was heavily debated between residents, with yard signs and websites put up for both the “Say yes” and “Say no” sides. But ultimately, the property tax increase was defeated by a tally of 52.68% to 47.32%.
Now that the property tax increase has been rejected, Mayor Guy Fugal said the City Council will decide next February how to adjust the budget to fund the additional public safety needs, the park and the librarian. Fugal explained police wages have already been raised and “We won’t be cutting any wages.”
In addition to the police wages not being cut, “The park’s going forward, OK. There’s no doubt,” Fugal said. With the $5 million donation from the Cook family, which they will pay yearly to help pay off the bond, Fugal said the city needs to support their commitment and do their part. He said funds will be moved from another area to ensure the development of the park continues.
Darrington added that the new firefighter has already been hired and the City Council is still moving forward with the hiring of the librarian. The budget discussion lasts from February to June, and in that time the City Council will figure out how to pay off the last section of the bond for the park and how to fund the other additions the property tax would have funded.
According to Darrington, whether or not the property tax increase passed, the City Council has been planning to move forward with all of the additions because money is available in the general fund — only now, he said, “we have to figure out what other service we’re going to pull money from in order to have these things funded, because these have become a priority.” He explained they have already committed to funding these additions and the money has already been borrowed, so the payments are due with or without a tax increase.
The property tax increase would have brought in an additional $733,171 per year for Pleasant Grove. Instead, the discussion in February will determine how to fill that gap moving forward without needing to readjust funding each year.
In early 2023, a $36 million bond was passed by the Pleasant Grove City Council, $15 million of which was to pay for the new Cook Family Park that broke ground on Aug. 2. The property tax increase would have gone toward paying off one-third of the part of the bond paying for the park. City Manager Scott Darrington explained another third is being paid with money the city set aside last year to pay for the bond, and the final amount is being paid by the Cook family.
The property tax increase also would have gone toward providing higher police wages, a full-time firefighter and a librarian.
John St. Clair, who started the gathering of signatures to place Proposition 14 on the ballot and led the “Say no” campaign, said when he saw the property tax increase had been rejected, he was excited. “It was a long effort — lots of hours, lots of people, lots of time — and it ended with the majority of voters wanting to reject the tax increase. So we’re excited about that,” he said.
St. Clair explained the reason having the property tax increase on the ballot was so important “was to give the voters of Pleasant Grove a choice.” He said when the bond and the property tax increase was being passed, he felt like many residents were not aware of what was happening. “I think the city could do a much better job communicating and reaching out to people.”
He continued, “I’m sure if residents knew what was going on, they would have reacted much, much more quickly. So this was our effort to hopefully educate a lot of citizens about what’s going on.” He added he hopes that in the future, citizens of Pleasant Grove will be more engaged in their city government, be more aware and attend more City Council meetings.
Drew Armstrong, who was on the Pleasant Grove Planning Commission for one term, led an individual campaign, paying for a website to be created and mailers to be sent out in support of Proposition 14 being passed. Fugal also led an individual campaign in support of the property tax increase through paying for and setting up yard signs to encourage people to “Vote yes.”
They each expressed the same reaction to the results on election night, which was disappointment, they told the Daily Herald in separate interviews.
Despite the proposition’s defeat, Armstrong said many people do not understand that the park and the other additions to the city will still go forward. “We’re gonna have to find the money in the budget elsewhere. That’s what’s gonna happen, which is too bad, but it happens,” he said.
Fugal explained these additions will be paid for from money out of the general fund once it is distributed by the council and the budget is redone in February, meaning some areas of the city may not receive as much as they would have with the property tax increase.
However, no money will be taken from the roads program, which receives approximately $4 million each year not from the general fund, or from other programs that already have funds set aside for specific purposes. The roads program would simply not receive additional funding from the general fund this year, Fugal said.